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Greece/Turkey Arms Race: French Frigates vs. German Submarines?

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The arms race between Greece and Turkey could lead to a conflict, with the use of French and German weaponry. Credit: Wikimedia Commons/ CC BY 3.0

It may sounds like a Balkan remake of “Dr. Strangelove,” but there is an extreme war scenario where the arms race leads Greece’s forces to use French frigates to fight Turkey, using German submarines.

The respective naval deals of Greece with France and Turkey with Germany raise some questions that must be answered in terms of Europe’s push for strategic autonomy.

The Turkey – Germany deal was announced last July. Ankara tried to boost its naval power by procuring six new submarines from Germany, a move that shows it wants to flex its muscle in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Greece and France sealed their “strategic partnership” in late September, with an agreement for the sale of three frigates, with the option for a fourth. The first two will be delivered by 2025 and the third in 2026.

In June, Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias formally petitioned Berlin against the sale of the six subs. He asked that Germany stop arming a country which has repeatedly violated territorial rights of two EU member states, Greece and Cyprus.

According to the German ministry, Thyssen, the company constructing the six type U-214 submarines, is bound by a contract signed in 2002.

Arms race between Greece and Turkey involves France and Germany

As the episode with the Greek Nautical Geo vessel showed the other day, a minor incident in the Aegean could occur at any time. If that leads into an impasse between Greece and Turkey, the arms race with French frigates and German submarines could come into world view.

The Greek Navy will soon have French frigates, while the Turkish Navy will have German subs. Credit: Hellenic National Defense General Staff

Of course these kinds of war games have been hanging over the two countries for over 50 years. Needless to say, both are still members of NATO, despite their endless conflicts.

There have been instances where the two neighboring countries have been close to a war. Turkey’s military invasion of Northern Cyprus in 1974 drew a general Army mobilization on the Greek side. But given the collapse of the Greek junta and the rapid deployment of the Turkish forces, all-out war was ultimately averted.

Crises in 1987 and 1996

Thirteen years later another conflict brought the two countries to the brink of war. Turkey learned that Greece was starting to drill for oil in the vicinity of Greece’s Thasos island, which is disputed by Turkey. In response, the Turkish survey ship Piri Reis was sent to the area with an escort of Turkish warships.

The late prime minister Andreas Papandreou gave orders to sink the ship if it was found in Greek waters. Turkish Prime Minister Turgut Özal said that “If Greece interferes with our vessel in any way, and this is what Papandreou is saying, we will act in the same way against him. As a result, it could be cause for war.”

The crisis was solved when Özal announced that if the Greek government did not enter the disputed waters, the Turks would stay out as well; he participated in a phone call with Papandreou.

And then there was the 1996 crisis over Imia, an uninhabited islet in the Aegean. After the owner of a herd of sheep that remained on the islets hoisted a Greek flag on the island, Turkish journalists from Hurriyet newspaper landed on the islet with a helicopter, lowered the Greek flag and hoisted a Turkish flag.

Greek special forces landed secretly on the east islet undetected. Then Turkish armored units moved to the Green Line on Cyprus, which caused the alert of the Cypriot National Guard, and Turkish special forces commandos also landed undetected on the west of Imia, escalating tensions.

The immediate military threat was defused primarily by American officials. The Greeks and Turks did not speak directly to one another, but were responsive to Washington’s assistance as an informal intermediary. Agreement was given by both sides to the United States to return to the “status quo ante.”

Arms race leads to war games

Greece has always relied on EU support. Turkey is in perpetual negotiations with the EU for  membership. Still, Germany, an EU and NATO member, is arming fellow NATO member Turkey with defense submarines which could be used in a conflict with EU member, Greece.

This might very well be a war game scenario for the ages. It also indicates the terms of “allied rivalry,” if not “allied enmity”, between Greece and Turkey.

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